Driven: 2008 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren Roadster

Shamit Choksey

Letting out a raspy growl, the roadster rocketed toward the horizon. It wasn't long before the speedo's needle climbed past 300 kph, and stayed there for a good twenty seconds. The chassis felt glued to the road even at these speeds. The tires - 245/40 ZR 18s up front and 295/35 ZR 18s out back - became one with the road. The cockpit was exceptionally well-shielded from the wind, despite having the top down, and the SLR was so smooth and firmly planted that I actually felt relaxed. It wasn't until later, over dinner, that I broke out into a sweat - when I stopped to make the calculation from kilometers to miles per hour. 300 kph is 186 miles per hour. Yikes.

Now when it comes to normal motoring, the McLaren roadster proves to be a very different animal. Its handles corners with competency thanks in part to its front and rear double wishbone suspension, but doesn't deliver the elevated precision of many high-end sports cars. As far as slow speed maneuvering goes, the SLR is an absolute bear. Three-point turns are cumbersome due to its long front-end and wide turning radius. And very high-effort steering and limited visibility add to the overall difficulty when weaving through tight parking lots. Of course, since most SLR owners will never find themselves in parking lots, this will only be a source of frustration for disgruntled valet attendants.

Visually, the roadster's lines are every bit as wicked as the coupe's. Its shell looks like an exoskeleton with its ribcage-like air vents. And the side exhaust pipes are integrated just behind the front tires. The raised butterfly doors look even cooler when the top is down. You'll feel like a superhero getting into this thing, but climbing out is another story. It's difficult to look cool when you have to fight to exit a vehicle (I clumsily stumbled out and then looked around to see if anybody saw me). It's not as bad as the Lotus Exige, but it definitely takes some effort.

Inside the SLR, passengers find superb fit and finish. After all, this is a tremendously expensive automobile. But for its price tag, the interior does not engage you like you think it would. The racing-style cabin features a two-tone color scheme and unites such materials as carbon fiber, aluminum, and leather. But the sport bucket seats are not beyond anything found in the AMG performance car line-up. And aside from the McLaren badging, the gauges look common, as do the controls. The most attractive interior feature seems to be an old-style navigation system. It does not have a map display, but instead, straightforward "arrow indicators" that still do a fine job in keeping you from getting lost.

Mercedes has not released production numbers for this vehicle, but one thing is for certain: the model will be very limited in availability.

The SLR roadster is a lot of things. It's a status symbol. It's a supercar. It's also a lot of money - it'll cost the same as a pair of Lamborghini Gallardos. But in the end, it's something automotive enthusiasts have been salivating over for quite a few years: It's an SLR McLaren. And as Klaus Nesser will tell you, it's one with the top off.

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